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U.S. Fulbright

A Much-Appreciated Change of Pace, By Thomael M. Joannidis, 2009-2010, Cyprus

September 7, 2010

My Fulbright year in Cyprus was characterized by adaptability. Initially, I planned to “hit the ground running” and begin immediately gathering quantifiable research results for my proposed project. During my first days, however, I realized the value of taking things slowly and devoting some time to getting to know the people and culture, while also finding ways to connect with the community. At first, my New York upbringing felt quite at odds with accepting that things do not always work on a fast-paced schedule and that, in the meantime, I should sit with locals, enjoy the lovely weather and a Cypriot coffee. Yet, it was often in these moments – without a voice recorder or a list of questions – that my research began and people became comfortable enough to share their lives. Changing my project’s pace allowed me to begin understanding the soul of Cyprus, what matters to the people and the rhythm of their lives.

Volunteering with two non-governmental organizations which also served as my affiliations was essential to getting acclimated. The work I did with Hands Across the Divide, a grassroots, bicommunal women’s peace group (meaning that there were both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot members), and Future Worlds Center, a large organization working in a number of areas including the promotion of civil society and peace, was not usually related to my research. I appreciated their time and willingness to assist me with my research and felt that the best way to thank them was to volunteer my time. On Fulbright, everything becomes a learning experience and an opportunity for personal growth. I supported staff by helping to facilitate and prepare for events on a range of topics including development education, youth activism and annual organizational meetings. Sometimes, my tasks were more administrative in nature, such as preparing agendas or taking minutes. At other times, I had an opportunity to present and actually participate in the programming. One of my best memories occurred when I volunteered to help at a bicommunal youth activism retreat which involved camping on a natural, undeveloped beach, surrounded by the sea on one side, and rocky terrain on the other.

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